Regulatory reform bill advances in House

Regulatory reform bill advances in House
© Greg Nash

A Republican-backed bill to put new reporting requirements and restrictions on regulators advanced through committee on Tuesday.

The House Rules Committee voted 8-4 to send the Regulatory Integrity Act to the full floor for a vote.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) forces each agency to publicly post online a list of each rulemaking, the date the agency began considering the rule, its status, the date it will be finalized and a brief description of the rule.

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The bill also requires agencies to report every communication about a rule online and prohibits agencies from promoting an agency rulemaking on social media. Only tweets and blog posts that inform the public of the “substance or status” of a rule will be allowed.

In testifying on behalf of his legislation, Walberg said agencies are using the rulemaking process to advocate for what should be a proposed rule rather than using it to refine and improve upon a proposal. 

“This bill helps us return to our original intent of crowd sourcing regulatory efforts by preventing agencies from boasting to the public about how great their proposal is instead of honestly and earnestly asking for public feedback, criticism and dialogue about how to best solve problems,” he said. 

Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.) strongly opposed the legislation, calling it too broad, vague and a threat to agency openness.

“There’s already a criminal statute in place that prevents agency employees from engaging in grassroots lobbying for a proposed rule. The appropriations committee also typically includes language that prevents an agency from using federal funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ purposes,” he said. “This bill goes beyond these existing restrictions to prohibit agencies from simply promoting an agency action.”

Clay also argued against the bill's “overly burdensome” reporting requirements.

“If my colleagues are serious about improving the transparency of the regulatory process we should work together on a bill that would actually accomplish that goal,” he said.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) criticized the committee for wasting time on an anti-regulatory bill in the short time lawmakers have before they recess to campaign in October.  

“We’re only scheduled to be here for a couple more weeks and I find it hard to believe that instead of providing funding to adequately fund the Zika crisis, or dealing with this situation in Flint, Michigan, or dealing with the epidemic of gun violence in this country we’re doing this bill, which is a partisan attack on executive rulemaking processes that is never going to see the light of day, but you’re in charge you can do that.” he told Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

Sessions noted that leadership in both the House and Senate met with President Obama last week to discuss his legislative priorities, which includes new funding to fight the Zika virus.  

“I anticipate we will have the opportunity to address the issues Mr. McGovern spoke about,” he said, but added that it will be done in a way that shows the American public that Congress is working together.

In a statement Tuesday, the Obama administration said it strongly opposes the bill, and if it were to reach the president’s desk, senior officials would recommend a veto.

“The Regulatory Integrity Act of 2016 would be duplicative and costly to the American taxpayer,” the statement read. “The separate tracking and reporting of agency communications as prescribed by the bill is unnecessary, is extremely burdensome and provides little to no value while diverting agency resources from important priorities.”

Pro-regulatory groups were quick to attack the bill Monday. 

"This bill makes our government agencies less transparent and limits their ability to reach the public through social media outlets like twitter,” Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, said in an email to The Hill.

“The bill essentially censors agencies by blocking them from sharing information about how a regulation will benefit the public."